Deadspin vs. Grantland
It takes more than a little chutzpah to launch a daily sports website that hangs its vintage Kansas City Monarchs baseball cap on such throwback values as good writing, tight editing, first-rate design and high-road ideals.
Wait. No Brett Favre cell phone pics? No slipped cheerleader boob shots?
It would appear not. That’s not what Bill Simmons, the writer and ESPN.com sports guy juggernaut, seems to have in mind for Grantland, the recently launched ESPN-backed sports website he’s editing.
Simmons is taking it old school.
The site is named for Grantland Rice, the early 20th century sportswriter known for his colorful prose. Rice once said (not of Simmons, but the echo rings true): “A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows the public opinion.”
The launch of the stylish Grantland appears to have Deadspin, the hugely popular sports gossip site that makes its bones on Brett Favre fandangos and other slippery sloped exposes, in a craziculous state.
A piece in Deadspin had this to say about Grantland Rice, the actual guy: “Reading him today is not unlike looking at your maiden aunt’s collection of Precious Moments figurines.”
Deadspin’s search-and-destroy salvo was titled “Why Grantland Rice Sucks.”
If you follow sports enough to check in with SportsCenter and ESPN online a time or two a week, you know Bill Simmons’ work. No one is as prolific, or as opinionated. He is also way upfront about the teams he roots for (the Celtics!). But it’s his dexterity behind the keyboard and his wide-ranging references (he just referenced Ike Turner!) that makes him fun to read.
What Simmons seems to be suggesting with Grantland is that it’s okay to like sports—really like sports—and still like to read the Atlantic or watch “The Killing” or catch an off-Broadway play once in a while. You don’t have to listen to sports radio 24/7 to be a sports guy.
I recently spent valuable work time on Grantland reading an oral history about The National, an ambitious short-lived sports daily edited by Frank Deford in the early ‘90s. So many great tidbits, like this from Deford: “The first guy I talked to was John Feinstein. I had dinner with him, and he said, ‘This sounds great.’ I said, ‘You look like you need a new blazer. I’m going to give you a signing bonus of a new jacket.’ And I did.“
I read another longform piece, textured and full of grace, this one about Elaine’s, the legendary literary saloon. It closed with this line: “[A great bar] stays the same so we can measure our own change. That’s why we mourn them when they disappear.”
Deadspin trashed that, too, with a story titled “Elaine’s was a Dump.”
I get it. I do.
Annihilate all that threatens.
Snark Grantland as Fogeyland.
But does Grantland really threaten Deadspin?
Yesterday, Deadspin had a piece titled “Why LeBron James Is STILL A C***sucker” (Excerpt: “LeBron James has never been arrested or caught with naughty drugs or done anything explicitly ‘immoral,’ I suppose. But that doesn’t matter, because he’s still a piece of shit anyway”).
They also had a blurb-with-photo titled “Women Of The German National Soccer Team Endeavor To Show They Are Not ‘Butch’ By Posing For Playboy” (“Battle of the Bulge in my pants,” cracked one commenter).
The crème de resistance was a photo headlined “Yes, Mark Cuban Takes the Trophy to the Urinal with Him” (and yes, they had the picture to prove it, taken from behind, gratefully).
Funny, kind of.
You watch. Deadspin will turn the volume up real loud and hope to drive traffic their way with lots of trash talk.
Simmons won’t take the bait. He’ll be too busy writing and editing to notice.
Tim Whitaker (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.